Weeks before he even took office, Gov.-elect John Kasich managed to lose the state $400 million. From the day he was elected, Kasich promised to get rid of plans for the 3C rail line linking Ohio's major cities, including Columbus, and turn away the federal money that comes with it.
But in early December, President Obama's administration beat Kasich to the punch, yanking the funding after weeks of hearing the man who will be governor pooh-pooh the choo-choo.
Saying no to government cheese seems to be the hip thing for Republicans to do. Wisconsin's governor-elect made the same anti-train noise and kissed his cash goodbye as well. Instead, the Buckeye
and Badger bucks will go to other states, including California and Florida. (Something expensive and exciting leaving Ohio for Florida . . . sound familiar, LeBron fans?)
Putting the brakes on the train seems an odd way to follow up an election won in part by bashing his predecessor for the job losses during the past four years. The train was projected to create 255 immediate construction jobs and 8,000 indirect ones, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation-numbers that you'd think would look lovely in a reelection ad in 2014.
Kasich argued that the state couldn't afford the train and its yearly $17 million subsidy, and while he's certainly right now, that argument didn't mean much. Ohio is projected to have an $8 billion budget deficit next year; we can't afford anything. Which is why spending someone else's money would have been so beneficial.
But Kasich showed no interest in studying the issue, proclaiming the day after the election: "The train is dead." He fought with outgoing Gov. Ted Strickland to cancel two studies on environmental impact and the feasibility of sharing freight lines, not showing the slightest inclination to know better what he was talking about.
Kasich's refusal even to consider that the rail line might be good for the state because it was someone else's idea smacks of a second wife redecorating a house just to erase all traces of the first-except in this case, the furniture he threw out was worth $400 million and free.
Beyond that, Kasich overlooked one central point: Trains are cool. And Ohio doesn't have much in the way of cool going for it nationally. (You can stow the arguments about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and our sports teams. When was the last time someone was impressed you live in Ohio?)
Right now, this state is three big cities and a boring highway in between. But link them with a train and they're an adventure.
Reds, Indians, Blue Jackets, Bengals and Browns fans not living in their team's city would seem to have been prime train-riding candidates, given that a game day commute is a deterrent when adult beverages are involved. Since the train also was proposed to travel to Dayton, too, I guess that would have been good news for fans of the National Aviation Hall of Fame? (OK, they had me there; I could do without the Dayton detour.)
Before the funding was revoked, President Obama met with Kasich and explained that the money couldn't be used for anything else, but Kasich was unmoved. He didn't just look that gift horse in the mouth; he made fun of its hay.
After losing the money, his spokesman attempted to change the story: Kasich "finds it tragic that instead of saving taxpayer money they would simply waste it elsewhere. Washington needs to end its addiction to spending that is mortgaging our kids' futures."
Which will be a big consolation to me the next time I'm stuck in traffic on I-71 trying to make it to a Reds game.
And speaking of our kids' futures, Kasich is playing roulette with funding for that, too, by announcing his intent to alter a plan that won the state $400 million in education money. He's already been told that substantial changes put that money at risk. Will he meddle anyway, just to leave his imprint?
There's reason for concern. Kasich hasn't even taken office yet and he's already barreling down the wrong track.